Restoring the Zarqa – Respecting Our Rivers

‘When you look down the Zarqa River at Janna’a Park it is hard to imagine that 30 years ago this area was green and fertile’, said Eng.Mohammad Al Zawahra from Zarqa Municipality. ‘People would swim in clear water pools, fish, swam in the river, and we had flowing water throughout the year’.

Zarqa River in Jordan, December 2009

The situation now is very different. It is now a seriously polluted infrequently flowing stream, reduced to a trickle of black liquid and solid waste running through urban and rural areas. The water has become a danger to the health of people and livestock living nearby. Irrigation with water from the river creates a serious risk of food contamination, threatening valuable agricultural industries. Habitat for birds, fish and other biodiversity along the river has been destroyed. In a complex circle on interconnectivity, many development impacts are destroying the river and with it the ecosystem services it provides. For decades the Zarqa River has been heavily polluted by untreated domestic and industrial wastewater, as well as solid waste. Ground and surface water is pumped for agriculture reducing surface and spring flow to the river.

But action is being taken. The municipality of Zarqa town, Ministries of Environment, Water, and Agriculture, and the IUCN Regional Water and Dryland Program (REWARD) based in Amman are working to help restore the Zarqa River through a series of pilot projects. The new Al-Samra Waste Water Treatment Plant downstream of Zarqa is helping to clean the water in the lower part of the river basin, and upstream restoration will focus on working with farmers to reduce pollution and use water more efficiently. In Zarqa town, the municipality will focus on restoring an area called Janaa’a Park into an urban green space, providing an urgently needed place for people to rest, relax and enjoy a greener and cleaner urban environment. Part of this restoration is currently looking at ways to clean wastewater in the river bed, and in maintaining cleaner and more consistent water flows downstream.

‘It is a challenge, but we have excellent interest and a real commitment to all work together to try and solve these problems’ said Batir Wardam, Project Coordinator of the Zarqa River Basin Restoration project from the Ministry of Environment. ‘A key element of this work is to try and develop something which benefits people and therefore has a strong social element, and something which benefits the environment and restores the river. We have to provide something we can replicate along the river to show people and institutions working along the river what can really be achieved with concerted action’.

The project will continue for another two years and will work in 4 pilot areas. The Tal Adhahab pilot area downstream in the Jordan Valley will work with the local farmer society to develop a pilot farm. This will focus on introducing new crops to farmers which provide a better income for less water, using a mixture of traditional and modern irrigation and soil water retention practices.

For more information please contact Eng. Mr. Mufleh Abbadi, IUCN Project Manager for the Zarqa River Restoration Project;  

Work area: 
West Asia
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